Questions for ‘Our species may have reached Europe while Neandertals were there’

image of a stone point with a sharp edge

This sharp-edged stone point is evidence of the earliest known Homo sapiens settlement in Europe. It comes from a French rock-shelter and dates to as early as 56,800 years ago, researchers say.

L. Slimak

To accompany Our species may have reached Europe while Neandertals were there


Before Reading:

  1. Where do you think our species evolved? (Hint: It wasn’t in Europe or North America.) When do you think Homo sapiens arrived in Europe to make their first settlement?
  2. What related folk lived there when those humans arrived? Do you think these different folk would have interacted? Why or why not?

During Reading:

  1. The earliest known settlement of Homo sapiens, our species, has been found in southern France. How long ago did that community live there? By how long does their arrival beat the next earliest known community of Homo sapiens?
  2. What’s the name of this site of the earliest human settlement? What did it look like? And what other folk had lived there?
  3. Why was the date for this finding of early Homo sapiens at Grotte Mandrin such a surprise? What ancient artifacts were found at the site? Which of those artifacts seem to prove “modern” humans had lived there at that early date?
  4. How many people were part of that first known settlement of humans at Grotte Mandrin — and how long did the people stay there?
  5. What are several ways Ludovic Slimak and his colleagues dated the artifacts at the site to identify the earliest date at which humans settled there?
  6. Why does Slimak argue that Homo sapiens and Neandertals must have interacted at or near this site?
  7. Why does Clive Finlayson argue that stone tools are not sufficient evidence for dating the presence of Homo sapiens at the site?

After Reading:

  1. Studies have shown that nearly everyone, the world over, carries residual bits of Neandertal DNA in their genome. Some scientists argue that Homo sapiens and Neandertals represent different species; others argue that both belong to same human species. What circumstantial evidence might suggest these two group do — or do not — belong to the same species? Would it matter to you if they truly did represent the same species? Why or why not?